So far as we are concerned, Berkeley’s Golden Bears have already won the Stanford Axe, the trophy in their annual “Big Game” with the Cardinals, despite the fact that college football season is still months away.
Our reason: the contrast between recent actions of the presidents of UC and Stanford to the challenge of campus anti-Semitism.
First, the good news: UC President Janet Napolitano for personally agreeing with the U.S. State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes denial of Israel’s right to exist—not criticism of Israeli government policies—as a manifestation of anti-Semitism. The State Department’s “working definition” reads: “anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.” Examples include: accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust, and accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of their own nations.
Both Rabbi Meyer H. May, Executive Director of the Wiesenthal Center, and Aron Hier, director of the Center’s Campus Outreach program, have attended meetings over the course of months throughout the state urging UC Regents, chancellors, and policy makers to adopt the State Department definition which will also be voted on by the UC Board of Regents this July.
In contrast, Stanford’s SAE fraternity house has recently been defaced with a swastika, in addition to painted personal slurs and epithets.
Liana Kadisha, president of the Stanford Israel Association told the Stanford Daily that there has been a “rise in hostility toward Jewish communities,” on campus since the university student senate approved a divestment resolution. Kadisha also said: “My parents are from Iran and left that country because it wasn't open really to Jews anymore and so I don't think they would ever expect that at Stanford, so many years later we would be dealing with these types of incidents.”
Nationally, the SAE fraternity, site of the Stanford swastika, has a history of racial and religious discrimination. It banned Jews until some time after World War II, and only in recent years has it really opened its doors to Jewish members. Unfortunately, as is clear from the national headlines about what happened at the University of Oklahoma, it is far from outliving its history of bigotry against African Americans.
In a related incident, Stanford undergraduate Molly Horwitz, a candidate for the Student Senate, was vetted by the Students of Color Coalition about her fitness for office. This followed February’s ugly campus debate that ended in a vote for a resolution for divesting in companies doing business on the West Bank as a way of punishing Israel.
During the divestment debate, Horwitz wrote several posts on Facebook against it. But then she and her campaign manager scrubbed Horwitz’s Facebook page to hide all posts indicating support for Israel, including a photograph of a pair of shoes decorated to look like the Israeli flag. Why? Because: “We did it not because she isn’t proud—she is—but the campus climate has been pretty hostile, and it would not be politically expedient to take a public stance.” Reportedly, Horowitz’s inquisitors are also being investigated for allegedly asking its endorsed candidates to sign a contract promising not to affiliate with Jewish groups on campus.
What’s the response by the Stanford authorities to the latest swastika incident? Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) spokesman Bill Larson said that the incident will be recorded as a hate crime. Well and good.
But what about the response by University President John Hennessy? He said: “I am deeply troubled by the act of vandalism, including symbols of hate, that has marred our campus. The University will not tolerate hate crimes and this incident will be fully investigated, both by campus police and by the University under our Acts of Intolerance Protocol. This level of incivility has no place at Stanford. . . . I ask everyone in the University community to stand together against intolerance and hate, and to affirm our commitment to a campus community where discourse is civil, where we value differences and where every individual is respected.”
This sound good, but lacks one critical component: any mention of anti-Semitism. President Hennessy, who commendably has opposed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, suggests that we examine the University’s “Acts of Intolerance Protocol.” We have. This 4-page document’s definition of “acts of intolerance” includes: Gender or gender identity, Race or ethnicity, Disability, Religion, Sexual orientation, Nationality, Age, Social or economic class. Very inclusive. But anti-Semitism—is it a crime against “religion” or “ethnicity” or “nationality” or some hybrid?—falls between the cracks. Significantly, when the reader gets to page 4, there is a listing of two dozen “University resources available to students, faculty and staff.” No inclusion of Hillel, the Stanford Israel Association, the Jewish Students Association, or any other group with a Jewish or pro-Israel identity.
What’s going on here is a form of “euphemism” practices on campus from the U.S. to the UK. George Orwell, who satirized “Double Speak” in 1984, treated euphemism as a wide variety of techniques to distort and obfuscate reality, often for political reasons or what we would call today political correctness. We can still smile at the Victorians’ description of a pregnant woman as “being in an interesting condition.” Describing torture as “an enhanced interrogation technique” is something else again. As to anti-Semitism, the euphemistic strategy is to deny it any specific mention in a list of “hate crimes.”
Adopting the State Department’s definition is an important step in the right direction.
Aron Hier is Director of Campus Outreach for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Historian Harold Brackman is a Center consultant.